The old-school biblical rain that has fallen pitilessly over the last 48 hours may have stopped, but as I write this, the wind is howling like some kind of horror movie opener. The ground lays sodden, unpaved paths are awash with mud, wheelie bins lie overturned and streams and rivers are swollen.
Here in Brisbane we were subjected to merely the ultra-mellowed-with-age tail end of Cyclone Debbie. Far North Queensland, the spinning behemoth’s true wrecking ground, has now been declared a catastrophe by the Australian Insurance Council with damages estimated in the billions.
Oh Debbie! You may have looked almost beautiful on the satellite image – a perfect swirl of white no more threatening than milk stirred into coffee – but boy did you get angry! And nasty! You meant to hammer us until we smudged like a Monet masterpiece. But how did you get your name? Now that your fury has weakened and your chaos has diminished, I may reveal all.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) actually has a list of names. The list was complied in 2008 and its exactly 104 names long. The monikers alternate between male and female. All the names on the list had to be approved by the World Meteorological Organisation Regional Tropical Cyclone Committee for the SE Pacific.
If you want to play along at home, the next few cyclones will be called Ernie, Frances, Greg and then Hilda.
Anyone of a certain age will remember the days back when cyclones carried exclusively female names. That changed in 1975, which was declared International Women’s Year. The Science Minister of the time decided to add male names to the list because both sexes “should bear the odium of the devastation caused by cyclones”.
So where did Cyclone Yasi, (2011) that also devastated North Queensland, fit into this naming scheme I hear you ask. It formed outside the area the BOM is responsible for, so they didn’t get to name it. The BOM keeps the name given to a cyclone by the relevant weather agency if it heads into Australian territory. That’s why it didn’t get a traditionally male or female sounding name.
You can name a cyclone … but it’ll take a while
The BOM accepts requests to add names to its list, but only in writing.
The names are added to a supplementary list that is used when a name is retired from the original list.
But because so many people want to name a cyclone, these letters are closed for any further submissions:
- Male: A, B, F, J, R, S, T, W, X, Y, Z
- Female: A, B, G, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, S, T, W, X, Y, Z
If you pass all those hurdles, here’s a note from the bureau’s website on how long it’ll take:
“Note that it can take many decades for a suitable slot to become available, then a further 10 to 20 years for the names to cycle through, so it is likely to be well over 50 years before your requested name is allocated to a cyclone.”
Just think of it: if you write that letter tomorrow, by 2067 your suggestion may just get the gong.
Publishing pipe-dreams anyone?